Now that the dust from the SCBWI New York conference has settled into my bones, I have realized that one of the things I appreciated most about the experience was hearing writers talk about rejection.
Yes, rejection. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a negative, the glass is half-empty kind of girl. I don’t relish in someone else’s misery. What I mean is, I found it refreshing to realize how common rejection is in the book business, even for already-published, well-known authors.
While my novel is on submission, I wait and hope and pray and teach every day and take care of my daughter and dog and wait and hope and pray and on and on…and then I get an email from my agent. And I’m immediately a little sad because I know what it is. If it were good news, she would call. And since I am new to all of this, I wonder if this is normal, especially since I read all of the announcements on book sites about the 23-year-old grad students whose first novels sold for six-figures at auction.
The SCBWI conference made me realize that rejection—lots of it—is the norm for many, dare I say most, writers. Some of the conference’s funnier moments were when writers shared their stories. Jane Yolen—THE Jane Yolen—said she still gets about two rejections per month. She said when she had a cat she would kick the cat. She was joking. I think. Now, she takes a walk or complains to her daughter, who tells her to get over it.
Illustrator Sergio Ruzzier joked that his worst rejection was delivered by a cute girl in elementary school. After that devastation, publishing rejections must be easy, the moderator replied. Ruzzier followed up by saying now, he cries for a few days after a rejection and then moves on.
Of course, I had heard some of the more famous rejection stories. J.K. Rowling was turned away by a dozen publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury. Stephen King was told by an editor “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” The book was CARRIE. George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM was rejected by a publisher with this note: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” For more of these, check out this article by The Examiner.
Hearing these stories at the SCBWI, though, was different. I think it was because I heard them while sitting in a crowd of like-minded people–people who love children’s literature and push through the creative process with the goal of being published. This time, hearing these stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this process–like everyone in that crowd understood, which was comforting.
Conversations I have had with other writers about rejection boil down to these conclusions: Yes, rejection hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Everyone has a rejection story, so you’re not alone. Consider the rejection. Is there anything you can learn from it? Can you glean something from the responses that could make your pitch, query letter, or manuscript better? As soon as possible, get back to work.
Dealing with rejection in publishing is really no different from dealing with let-downs in other professions or in our personal lives. We all fall down and scrape our knees. Sometimes, we suffer minor scratches; sometimes, we’re left with scars. Sometimes, we laugh about it and repeat the story so that others can nod knowingly. In the end, we get back up and move on. We get back to living and loving and working and taking care of children and pets and hoping and praying and waiting for the phone call that will deliver great news.